Business Monday

Business Plan Challenge: Your questions answered as deadline looms

Planning to enter the Business Plan Challenge? With four weeks left to submit entries, the questions have begun to flow in.

We offer three tracks to win our contest, which is sponsored by the Florida International University Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center. There is a community track, open to all South Floridians; an FIU track for the university’s students and alumni; and a high school track. You can enter our contest with a business idea or an existing business if it is not more than two years old. The deadline is March 16.

Here are some questions we have received.

Q. I entered last year but did not win. May I enter again?

A. Yes, we welcome repeaters, as long as you were not one of the top three winners and your business isn’t more than 2 years old. Freshen up that plan and try again. The second time was a charm for one of last year’s winners, AthleticSelect, which had been a finalist the year before. “The first year we entered, we saved the financials for last and ran out of time, thus having to guesstimate, and it showed. The judges weren’t impressed. Last year, we began with the financials, performed in-depth research, benchmarked our numbers vs. the competition and nailed our financials — a significant improvement over the previous year,” said Travis Smith, the CEO.

Q. May I enter more than one business idea?

A. Yes, as long as they are separate entries.

Q. Why don’t you have a social entrepreneurship track?

A. We welcome social entrepreneurial companies in all our tracks. We’ve had several winners in recent years with social-impact missions, particularly in the high school track. The plan must be for a for-profit business, not a nonprofit.

Q. May I enter both the Community and FIU tracks with the same plan?

A. Nope, pick one. For the FIU Track, at least one member of your top management team must be either a student or alumnus of that university.

Q. My daughter is in the eighth grade. May she enter in the High School Track?

A. Yes, we welcome ambitious middle school students in the High School Track. Good luck to her!

Q. What is the biggest mistake people make when they enter?

A. A lot of entrants spend too much of their precious three pages talking about all the features of their product or service and don’t include enough about the problem it solves, your target market, your business model and how you plan to make money, your team, your financials and your marketing strategy.

Another judge comment I see on a lot of plans: Think bigger. A lot of entrants have concepts with market growth potential but don’t express how they would expand beyond their initial markets.

Q. Any other tips?

A. Lots. Show your passion. Make every word count. Keep each section brief: Bullet points are your friend. Don’t forget financials: Judges want to see you have thought through startup and operating costs and would like to see projections for at least the first three years. Don’t wait till the last minute.

Find more advice and tips on MiamiHerald.com/challenge. More questions? Email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

Last chance to sign up for free Business Plan Bootcamp

Want expert advice on crafting a short business plan and pitching your company to investors? Attend our free Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp on Wednesday.

Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures, which invests in early-stage tech-enabled companies, will moderate a panel including serial entrepreneur Steven McKean, who is the former CEO of Acceller, Adam Smith, a partner in Medina Capital, a private-equity fund for growth-stage companies, Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation, and Leandro Finol, entrepreneur, investor and director of Miami Dade College’s new Idea Center. There will be plenty of time for Q&A with the audience so bring your questions.

The bootcamp will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at Miami Dade College’s Chapman Center (Building 3, Room 3210) on the Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. Space is limited, and registration is required. Sign up at http://hrld.us/bootcamp. Please check in at 6:15 p.m.; the program will begin promptly.

Questions? email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com and put bootcamp in the subject line.

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